Dream on progressives, Trump is not going to jail

Even if Trump loses the election, there will be no legal ‘reckoning’ for his alleged crimes.

A protester dressed as US President Donald Trump in a prison jumpsuit reads The New York Times in front of the newspaper's office in the Manhattan borough of New York City, US, September 28, 2020 [File: Carlo Allegri/Reuters]
A protester dressed as US President Donald Trump in a prison jumpsuit reads The New York Times in front of the newspaper's office in the Manhattan borough of New York City, US, September 28, 2020 [File: Carlo Allegri/Reuters]

For progressives, it is the stuff that dreams are made of: Donald Trump could soon trade his orange tan for a prison-issued orange jumpsuit.

But first, Americans have to render their verdict on November 3 before a district attorney or two ask another kind of jury to render another kind of verdict on the defendant, not president, Trump.

Fuelling hopes that dream will, one day, come true, are durable public opinion polls that show Democrat Joe Biden remains comfortably ahead – nationally and in a slew of mercurial swing states.

The promise of evicting Trump and his equally loathsome accomplices from the White House is deliciously close. And, yet, the disquiet among progressives is palpable. The trauma of 2016 lingers. Trump’s political resilience is as baffling as it is infuriating.

That Trump may duplicate his astonishing victory of approaching four years ago – however slim the possibility – is testament to how many millions of Americans undeniably share their president’s stupidity, profanity, obscenity, and fidelity to lunatic conspiracy theories.

Anticipation meets apprehension.

Still, progressives peering expectantly over the November horizon – confident that Trump will be thrashed via mail-in ballots – are also convinced that his decisive defeat will mark the first of a cascading series of events that will ultimately lead to a courtroom dock.

Dream on, indeed.

Thrilled by the prospect that Trump will eventually meet his oh-so-enticing legal comeuppance, many paid-to-talk-on-TV progressives feigned, I suspect, sympathy for the ailing president when he contracted COVID-19 recently. (I did not share their soppy sensibilities.)

In a nauseating display of sentimentality, Rachel Maddow et al wished Trump well – with a big caveat. We want you to recover, Mr President, they said, so we can watch you be perp-walked into court; and, if all goes to plan, escorted by armed guards into a minimum-security jail.

The wonderful precedents abound. At least eight of Trump’s “close associates” – some more closely associated with him than others – have either been indicted or jailed, including his ex-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his longtime consigliere-turned-progressive media darling, Michael Cohen.

Most of the charges Trump’s pinstriped suit-wearing “associates” faced stem from former FBI Director Robert Mueller’s byzantine probe into whether all the president’s men colluded with the Russians to subvert the 2016 election.

The paid-to-talk-on-TV progressives insisted that the sober, silver-haired Mueller was tantamount to the white knight of justice riding to the rescue of an on-life-support rule of law. Turns out, the brave white knight was a more old, timid turtle who baulked at holding Trump to any meaningful measure of account.

The prized catch slithered off the hook and evaded obstruction of justice charges. All the tortuous semantics about what Trump did with the Russians and when he did it leading up to the presidential election, cannot undo the fact that he was not indicted and, as a result, could claim vindication.

So, so long Robert Mueller. Hello, Cyrus Vance, the progressives’ new, shining saviour. At the moment, the Manhattan district attorney is deep into a criminal investigation of the Trump Organization’s cobweb-like financial dealings that could lead, court filings suggest, to a slew of indictments of various counts of fraud against Trump and his co-conspirators – familial or otherwise.

Beyond his potential legal travails with Vance, Trump is facing a tsunami of civil lawsuits from several states’ attorneys general and his niece, Mary, for fraud, as well as for defamation by women who have accused the president of rape and sexual harassment.

If he loses, Trump will, legal pundits say, forfeit the deference the courts have traditionally afforded sitting presidents.

Sorry to disappoint progressives, but that “deference” will certainly extend to Trump when he leaves the White House – voluntarily or involuntarily – just as it has to every other former president.

Surely, the same impulse that prompted Gerald Ford to pardon Richard Nixon, a president who also happened to be the principal architect of a long, administration-wide criminal conspiracy hatched in the Oval Office, will prevail with Trump.

A central aspect of the myth of American exceptionalism is that the head of state is, de facto, the embodiment of the US constitution. As such, to charge and jail a president would mean, in effect, desecrating the constitution, rather than validating it. In the American experience, potent symbolism has always trumped potent facts.

Breaking news: There is not going to be a legal “reckoning” since Trump is unlikely to be indicted, let alone set foot inside a cell.

Here is the historical record to prove that inviolable point: number of US presidents – 45; number of US presidents charged, convicted and jailed – 0. This, despite ample and persuasive evidence that scores of occupants of the sacrosanct “office of the presidency” have skirted – to put it diplomatically – if not knowingly broken, both domestic and international law.

He probably does not know it, but Trump will not be required to pardon himself: historical precedent will do it for him.

Any starry-eyed progressive who has faith that a “justice system” that could not indict one of the smug galleries of crisp, white-collar Wall Street bankers responsible for orchestrating the Ponzi-scheme-like subprime mortgage racket that triggered a near depression will have a miraculous epiphany and finally charge a former president for alleged financial crimes may also believe that Trump ought to have won the Nobel Peace Prize.

As for the civil lawsuits, I anticipate that most will inevitably – albeit reluctantly – be settled out of court after more than a few hefty cheques are written to make all the tricky business go away.

One well-meaning but hallucinating congressman has even suggested a “Presidential Crimes Commission” that would empower independent prosecutors to examine “those who enabled a corrupt president”.

I doubt Mr Bipartisanship, Joe Biden, is keen on the idea.

Given the myriad of indignities that Trump has inflicted on sentient Americans, I share their belief that it would be right and just to watch this abominable excuse of a commander-in-chief suffer the indignity of being the first US president to be charged and subsequently imprisoned.

This president deserves to be reduced to “inmate” Trump. Sadly, it is not going to happen.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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